A little while before Charles Martel fought the battle of Tours and drove the Mohammedans or Moors out of Gaul, they came into Spain, and before long the southern part of that country was in their hands. They became very prosperous, and founded splendid cities, of which the most famous were Granada and Valencia. The earlier comers, the Goths, held the northern part of Spain; and there were continual wars between the two peoples. The Goths, now called Spaniards, also fought among themselves; and in their quarrels they were glad of any one's help, no matter whether he was Christian or Mohammedan. Of all these warriors, Rodrigo Diaz, or the Cid, was the greatest. The Poem of the Cid was afterward written about his exploits, besides a countless number of ballads. The following are some of the stories that were told about him:—
The Alhambra, at Granada, Spain, Showing Court of the Lions
Long before he was made a knight, two of the Spanish kings had a quarrel about a certain city that lay on the line between their two kingdoms. Each wanted it, and the dispute would have come to war if one of them had not suggested that each should choose a warrior, and that single combat should settle the question. One king chose a famous knight, but the other chose the young Rodrigo. "I will gladly fight for you," he said to his king, "but I have vowed to make a pilgrimage, and I must do that first."
So on the pilgrimage he went. On the way he saw a leper who begged for help. Rodrigo helped him out of the bog in which he was fast sinking, set him in front of him on his own horse, and carried him to an inn. There he and the leper used the same trencher, or wooden plate, and they slept in the same bed. In the night Rodrigo awoke with the feeling that some one had breathed upon him so strongly that the breath had passed through his body. The leper was gone, but a vision of St. Lazarus appeared to him and said, "I was the leper whom you helped, and for your kindness God grants that your foes shall never prevail against you.'' Upon returning from his pilgrimage, Rodrigo vanquished in single contest the knight opposed to him and so gained the city for his king. After this people called him the Campeador, or Champion.
Even before this he had won his title of the Cid, or chief, by overcoming five Mohammedan kings. Instead of putting them to death, however, he had let them go free, and they were so grateful that they agreed to become his vassals, and to send him tribute. But this was not the end of their gratitude. A while later some of the counts of Castile became so envious of the Cid's greatness that they plotted to bring about his death. They made what they thought was a most excellent plan. They wrote to a number of the Moors, saying that in the next battle that should be fought they all intended to desert the Cid; and then, when he was alone, the Moors could easily capture him or slay him. The Moors would have been delighted to do this; but, unluckily for the plotters, some of the letters went to the five kings to whom the Cid had shown mercy. They had not forgotten his kindness; they sent him word of the proposed treachery, and the wicked counts were driven out of the kingdom.
The greatest exploit of the Cid was his capture of the Moorish city of Valencia, the richest city in all Spain. After a siege nine months long, the city yielded; and the people were in terror of what the Cid might do to them for having resisted him so long. But he was a humane warrior. He called the chief men together and told them that they were free to cultivate their lands, and that all he should ask from them was one-tenth of their gains. The ruler of Valencia was a man who had slain their rightful king. While the siege was going on, he had sold food to the starving people at a great price; and after the surrender he offered to the Cid the money that he had made in this way; but the Cid would not accept it, and he put the wicked man to death with many tortures.
The Cid was now a mighty ruler and a very wealthy man. Even the Sultan of far-away Persia sent noble gifts to him and earnestly desired his friendship.
After some years the Cid heard that the king of Morocco was about to come upon him with six and thirty other kings and a mighty force, and he was troubled. But one night St. Peter came to him in a vision. "In thirty days you will leave this world," he said, "but do you atone for your sins, and you shall enter into the light. Be not troubled about the coming of the Moors upon your people, for even though you are dead, you shall win the battle for them."
Then the Cid made himself ready for death. He ordered that, after he was dead, his people should put his body in battle array with helmet and armor, with shield and sword, and fix it firmly upon his horse with arm upraised as if to strike. This they did, and they went forth with the body of the Cid at their head to meet the six and thirty kings. The knights of the Cid came so suddenly and fought so fiercely that the six and thirty kings fled, and galloped their horses even into the sea. "We saw an amazing sight," the Moors afterwards declared, "for there came upon us full 70,000 knights, all as white as snow. And before them rode a knight of great stature, sitting upon a white horse with a bloody cross. In one hand he bore a white banner, and in the other a sword which seemed to be of fire, and he slew many."
The Cid's Last Battle
Twenty-two of the six and thirty kings were slain. The others went their way and never even turned their heads. Then when the body of the Cid had been lifted down from the horse, his friends robed it in cloth of purple and set it in the ivory chair of the conqueror, with his sword Tizona in its hand. And after ten years it was buried close by the altar of St. Peter in a monastery at Cardena.
One of his followers cared for Banieca, the horse that had been so dear to the Cid. Every day he led it to water and led it back and gave it food with his own hand. When the horse died, he buried it before the gate of the monastery. He set an elm at its head and another at its feet, and he bade that, when he himself should die, he should be buried beside the good horse Banieca whom he had loved so well, and for whom he had cared so tenderly.